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Clinton Gets Endorsement from Organized Labor

By Frank Swoboda
The Washington Post

Organized labor Monday endorsed Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in an effort to put to rest any idea of a brokered convention and allow the party to begin focusing on the general election contest against President Bush.

Top leaders of the AFL-CIO, including a number of union presidents who had been supporting the candidacy of former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., voted unanimously to recommend that the 14-million member labor federation endorse Clinton.

"The committee's vote is a reflection of the feeling across the breadth of labor that now is the time to act," AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland said Monday.

The action came after a telephone conversation Monday morning between Kirkland and Clinton in which the Arkansas Democrat essentially endorsed the trade position taken by House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) to provide protections for American jobs and worker rights in any North American Free Trade Agreement.

To the consternation of organized labor Clinton and Gephardt both endorsed giving the Bush administration fast track authority for approving a trade agreement. But in search of a middle ground to satisfy labor Clinton has regularly quoted Gephardt's doubts about whether the sort of treaty the administration would negotiate would adequately protect the interests of American workers.

After the telephone conversation, said a source who was at the meeting, "everyone breathed a little easier." The trade issue has been a major concern of organized labor, particularly among the industrial unions that had originally thrown their support behind Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), an opponent of fast track authority and advocate of an agreement that labor could support.

The AFL-CIO will not officially endorse Clinton until May 5, the next meeting of its 35-member Executive Council, but that will be simply a formality. The federation Monday ordered its state and local political operations to immediately begin working for the Clinton campaign.

Kirkland said labor decided to act because there it is now impossible for Brown to get enough votes to win the nomination. "I have no sense of there being some white knight out there who would lead us to the promised land," he said.

One union political source said the endorsement was designed to prevent Brown from winning significant union support as the campaign heads into primary states such as Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina. He said it also would help end any serious hope some unions might have that another candidate could be produced by a brokered convention.

Kirkland said labor wanted to help Clinton avoid what happened to Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984 when he had to fight for delegates up to the opening of the convention. As a result, Kirkland said, Mondale was unprepared for both the convention and "never got a campaign going."

By making the endorsement now, Kirkland said, labor could help "give the candidate a chance to prepare himself for the convention and the campaign. It's important that the candidate be in a position to organize his campaign as soon as possible."

Labor sources said the unions began to lean in the direction of endorsing Clinton after seeing the results of the New York primary last week. "The fact that he won New York showed he had some grit," the source said. "He didn't run from the issues."

Monday Kirkland praised Clinton's courage in the campaign. "Gov. Clinton has really been through the gauntlet," Kirkland said. "It's the toughest guantlet I can remember and he's stood up extraordinarily well under it." He said Clinton "deserves a good bit of admiration" for standing up under attack.